Getting into the digital business transformation game through Internet of Things takes courage, commitment and serious technology. With the latter, companies will need to decide on a software platform for launching IoT initiatives today and in the future. It's a critical choice.
An IoT software platform is the centerpiece for connecting and managing smart devices. It's the infrastructure for integrating operational data and control into business and customer processes, says research firm Forrester.
Thankfully, tech giants with proven track records such as IBM, Microsoft, SAP, PTC and Cisco, as well as industry stalwart General Electric, have brought strong solutions to market. Forrester analyzed these and other popular IoT software platform providers to make the decision process for tech and business executives a little easier.
"As businesses pursue digital initiatives, [infrastructure and operations] execs must assist their line-of-business colleagues with addressing software, security, data and business analytics integration complexity associated with deploying these IoT solutions," say Forrester analysts Michele Pelino and Andrew Hewitt in a research brief.
Forrester used 25 criteria to grade nearly a dozen IoT software platform vendors. The criteria spanned the product's functional capabilities for connecting, managing, securing and analyzing; the company's strategic plans for product enhancements, geographic reach and partner ecosystem; and market presence in the areas of customer installation, client distribution and dedicated employee resources.
So who led the pack? IBM, PTC, GE and Microsoft earned top marks.
Last year, IBM poured $3 billion into a new IoT business unit, which now has more than 1,000 researchers, developers and designers working on the Watson IoT platform. Forrester cites IBM's significant capabilities in augmented reality, cognitive capabilities, blockchain, edge analytics, natural language processing, among others.
Although not as big as IBM's investment, PTC put $1 billion into its IoT offerings after jumping into the market with the ThingWorx acquisition in 2013. PTC boasts broad protocol support for wireless connectivity and a stable of prepackaged applications. Its augmented reality capabilities scored the highest.
Yet PTC still has room for improvement. "Despite these advanced capabilities, however, some references reported a shortage of technical expertise within PTC's professional services division in addition to a lack of communication and clarity regarding newly released features," say Pelino and Hewitt.
Meanwhile, GE hyped its Predix platform for industrial IoT applications at its Minds+Machines event in San Francisco last week. More than 2,700 people from around the world attended the event. GE is leveraging its history in the industrial market to place a big bet on IoT as the path to digitization, claiming it will be a top 10 software company by the year 2020.
"Digitization is a transformation, not a task," Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt told the crowd at Minds+Machines. "It's not something else to put on your to-do list. This is all-encompassing change."
Then there's Microsoft's Azure Suite for connectivity, authentication, monitoring and analytics to support IoT. There are preconfigured packages for predictive maintenance and remote monitoring. Azure has a strong road map and extensive reach in 13 regions, Forrester says. There's also upcoming virtual device functionality.
Forrester says second-tier IoT software platform providers SAP, Amazon Web Services and Cisco Jasper also have competitive offerings, while LogMeIn, Exosite, Ayla Networks and Zebra Technologies lag behind.